Drafus Chow, one-half of Hong Kong DJ duo group Disco Step Child, could teach us a thing or two about music. Not in the sense of learning how to DJ (which he would probably attest to), but more in terms of approaching the art of sound selection. It’s an art based on taking your time and finding a tune that you personally and genuinely vibe with.
But with the rise of technology in creating a new breed of musicians and curators, it seems like a lot of clutter can easily pass through the speakers. The image of music transforms itself to hyped-up marketing, and the music itself into a top 40 formula. But Drafus stays true to what got him into music in the first place – that feeling you get when you know you’ve heard something special.
Let’s dive into your music and take it back: who or what were your first influences?
Anything (or anyone) that was different and no one else understood or liked. I’d spend my whole time trying to convince my friends why it was so great, forcing them to listen to this incredible track and never understood why they didn’t hear the greatness in the musicianship or why no one got it, but then if anything I listened to eventually did get popular, I didn’t like it anymore. That was my life in a nutshell.
That’s pretty much why I became a DJ – because I wanted to educate people and force them to listen to my great music that no one liked. Yeah, I played to a lot of empty rooms. There were many times where I’d have this great track I discovered and really excited to put on, and I would have visions of the crowd stopping everything, and going nuts re-evaluating their lives…. Of course usually there would be no reaction at all haha!
So, what was the most difficult thing you had to learn when you first got into DJ-ing?
Since I started with vinyl it was basically learning to cue, pitch, and beat match as well as learning that the crowd does not hear every little mistake you make. Anyway, this challenge is obsolete and outdated now with the invention of the sync button.
You fly in and out of HK often and you’re originally from New York. Why settle down in Hong Kong?
The convenience. No other city beats that. Also: opportunity. It’s always around the corner somewhere if you look for it.
Any 5 records you thought of bringing when you decided to move here?
Haha 5? Seriously? 5 records… that’s funny.
Lol. Okay, but what I was really trying to get to was what makes a good record player? And where can I get one for a good price in HK?
If you’re a DJ, then of course it’s the Technics. I got my pair in Mong Kok, but they were available in Sham Shui Po as well. They’ve just re-released them and are very expensive now haha! But if you’re an audiophile, you probably already know what you’d want to get. For casual listening, you can always find a turntable at HMV. They’re everywhere now.
I can’t remember the day without Spotify or YouTube to look for new music. Where do you look for new music and what music do you look for specifically?
I have my specific sites I go to now, but it’s definitely different from when I was growing up. I have nothing against Spotify. In fact, I think it’s great, I use it a lot and discover a lot of music through it, but this is my problem with streaming music: it’s still someone else that is discovering the music for you. Even if it’s not necessarily a person, it’s an algorithm. There isn’t any discovery any more. In fact, there is NO discovery at all.
I actually find it harder now to discover music since it’s all being fed to you. Links are there to click but someone is there to put those links together for you; to suggest this or that. If you like this then you should check out that. It’s all handed to you now so even though you may think you are discovering something, you really aren’t.
What do you think is the effect of online music streaming on music discovery?
The internet has made music way more accessible and easier to find, but what’s done is: before you’d have either great high quality tunes and lots of shitty tunes. It’d be easy to come across these great tunes and find them within those shitty ones.
Now, with the Internet you have fewer high quality tunes, a huge ocean load of mediocre tunes, and even more shitty tunes. It’s harder to find those high quality tunes now because you have to go through all these mediocre and shitty tunes, and they all start to sound the same.
You get stuck with all these mediocre ones because you settle for them thinking “They’re ok, pretty catchy.” One day you realize all your music is just so bland and mediocre, and you’re bored as shit listening to it. So you just end up listening to older music instead.
I also like to actually own my music. I just feel I need it the best quality I can get and streaming just makes me feel like it’s compressed and low quality. Plus, I’m a big sucker for packaging.
How does “owning your own music” influence your personal music discovery?
When I started buying my own music you weren’t allowed to listen or sample anything. I would spend hours in the record store and go through every record from A-Z looking for anything new or interesting. Sometimes I would buy albums just based on the cover art.
For example, I was into metal during my early years. If there was any form of evil on the cover I knew that it was something I might be interested in! I’d go home put it on, and yes sometimes it might turn into a country album… but the whole experience putting it on the turntable and not knowing what to expect – THAT is totally gone now.
As time went on, I learned a lot by reading the liner notes of albums. You saw who the artists thanked, who the producers were, their crew and friends… you also knew band members and if they were mentioned in any other lineup then you knew you’d probably like it. The thing was… no matter what it was, you would end up liking it because you spent your money on it.
Hip-Hop, though, was the best teacher out there for discovering stuff with all the samples. It really was a way to keep older music alive for the younger generation.
The nightlife in HK is fast-paced growing and evolving. Back in the day – you co-founded the bar and pool-hall, Racks M.D.B. Do you see yourself investing in something like that again?
It was a great time and Racks is still great and going strong. We definitely paved the way for a lot of things you see everywhere now. But my health won’t allow me to be going full out every night anymore. I’ll just have to see everyone maybe once or twice a week now instead haha.
Do you ever go out to clubs to discover new music?
I used to go out to clubs to discover new music. The sole reason for going out was to hear specific DJs, and hear some new stuff that they’d play out. That excitement when you heard a huge tune, but also the agony because you knew you’d have to go scour the record stores and try to find it. Most of the time it was unreleased but when you finally came across it somehow, man, there was no better feeling than that. We would have friendly competitions amongst friends who were also music nerds or DJs where we would play something and try to outdo each other. We always had a unwritten rule, though, that whoever discovered a specific record would be the only one that got to play it out if you were playing together. You found it so it was your tune to play out.
What I hate now is, especially with computers, when other DJ’s go behind you and take pictures of your track list on your computer screen. I mean, have a little sense of self respect, do your own research, it’s plain laziness. Back in the day you would cover the record label so no one could see what you were playing. That’s how you differentiated yourself… by your tunes.
Ok I babbled on with this one… I guess you’re going to have to edit this…
Hmm…or maybe we won’t. What’s your ritual like before every set?
Drink a shot of anything… or two… or three.
Most kids nowadays who aspire to do music, get into DJ-ing. List it down: 5 do’s & don’ts in pursuing a DJ career.
I’ll list it in one: forget wanting to be a DJ…. Learn an instrument.
What’s next for you?
Couple of ideas in my head… them coming into fruition is another thing, but you’re just going to have to wait and see!
Wrapping up, would you ever play me Beyoncé’s cheesiest song at a club if I requested it? Lol.
That’s a wrap!! Thanks!!
Drafus Chow Mixcloud | @drafus
Photos by Home Kong